Clemens, Yankees quiet Twins for 3-1 win, 2-1 lead

Matsui's two-run homer early paces offense

Wells goes for clincher today

Division Series

October 05, 2003|By Anthony Rieber | Anthony Rieber,NEWSDAY

MINNEAPOLIS - As Game 3 of this American League Division Series got under way yesterday, 55,915 screaming, Homer Hanky-waving Minnesota Twins fans were doing their best to press their team's greatest advantage:

We have the Metrodome! We have the super-fast turf! That ugly roof! And the noise! Get out your earplugs!

But Hideki Matsui took the air out of the dome with a two-run home run in the second inning, and Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera did their best to press the New York Yankees' greatest advantage - pitching. Three hours and two minutes after it started, Rivera finished a 3-1 victory that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. Game 4 is today at 4:06 p.m., with David Wells facing Johan Santana.

"Crowd's loud here, crowd's loud in New York, crowd's loud everywhere in the postseason," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "I'm sure if they scored some more runs, it would have been a lot louder. We were able to score early and keep them pretty much out of the game."

Clemens helped with that. The 41-year-old future Hall of Famer, in what still could be the final start of his career, threw a tidy seven innings, allowing only a bases-empty home run by A.J. Pierzynski in the third inning. Clemens, who gave up five hits and a walk and struck out six, left after throwing 99 pitches.

"He looked calm, he looked poised," catcher Jorge Posada said. "Toward the end of the game, we were just having fun."

Also fun for the Yankees was recapturing the feeling of dominance Rivera gives them. With two off-days in this series in his pocket, manager Joe Torre called on Rivera for a two-inning save for the second game in a row. Rivera made the Twins look feeble with a perfect performance in which he struck out three. He has faced 12 Twins in the series and retired all of them.

"Oh my God, he was just overpowering," Bernie Williams said of Rivera, who threw 19 pitches, 17 for strikes.

"This ain't no slump," said Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, who made the last out against Rivera after extending his career hitless streak against Clemens to 0-for-23. "Look at the pitchers. They're totally different from other pitchers. Veterans. Salary. The Yankees. Experience. You name it."

The Yankees had the same starting pitchers last season but were bounced from the first round by the Anaheim Angels. In that ALDS, the Yankees starters' ERA was 10.39. After three games in 2003, it's 2.14, and two of the runs Mike Mussina allowed in the Yankees' Game 1 loss were tainted by bad defense. Twins hitters have gone 9-for-64 - seven singles and two bases-empty home runs - in the past two games.

Clemens, knowing he might be making his final start, walked leadoff batter Shannon Stewart, who stole second after a fly out. But Clemens retired Doug Mientkiewicz on a grounder to second and struck out Matthew LeCroy. It was the beginning of a trend: The Twins were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

"That guy can pitch. He can flat-out pitch," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You see him out there huffing and puffing. When he got into a little bit of a jam, you can see him step back and find a little extra."

Matsui's home run into the upper deck in right field in the second gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead. They made it 3-0 in the third when Williams' two-out single to center drove in Juan Rivera, who had three hits.

Minnesota came back from a 2-1 deficit against Oakland in last year's ALDS, so the Yankees aren't booking passage to the American League Championship Series yet. But they are as confident as they have been all season.

"We got our work cut out for us," third baseman Aaron Boone said. "That said, we expect to come out tomorrow and win."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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